I recently saw a blog post that reminded teenagers that they won't always find their people in High School. It resonated with me. As a teen, I felt like I had only one or two close friends, but nothing to the level of connection I have with my close friends now. It was me. I'll spare you the Swifty lyrics that I know you're expecting now.
Meeting with my client this morning, I reminded her of this emotional connection we're looking for. She does have her close friends which I'm grateful she has! I always felt a little lost. I had friends, but I always felt like I was the second choice friend. Physical location made it hard in my rural area since we were all dependent on parental transportation. Add in a whole Catholic school to public school transition and it was a serious struggle for me. It wasn't until college that I had my ride-or-die bestie.
In week 7 of my CIJ program, we talk about the importance of relationships and connection. Not only is it key that we have key relationships with peers, but we also have to have them with ourselves. I'll pause on the relationship with self for the moment.
As a mom, I remember sending my kids into scouts, or an after school program, or even the first day of school. Hoping, wishing, praying that they had a good day and had at least one peer that would make the experience more fun. That fear of being alone sending my stress to all time heights. Thankfully, my children always managed to have fun, even when they initially knew no one.
Enter in the teenage years. Friendships change because it's a natural progression. Sometimes it's just a physical estrangement. Joey and Johnny aren't in the same class, so we're friends, but we just don't see each other. Social interaction is such a key need. That's why the pandemic was so detrimental to our kids. The social piece they missed for a year or more took so much away! We won't even talk about the impacts we as parents had on them with our personal philosophies on things going on at the time.
The friendships and social interactions of our teenagers help them create the person they're going to be now and who they become. Our lives are formed based on our experiences. Think of teaching them to drive. We are all afraid of our 16-year-old behind the wheel for the first time. But as they get better and experience how a vehicle handles and how to navigate the rules of the road, they gain the reaction experiences of how to respond when they're cut off, someone makes an unusual turn or whatever you've seen on the road. I've told my own daughter that she's a good driver. What I can't teach is how to respond to others on the road. That's where experiences come in.
Friendships are important because they create a safe space. How many teenagers tell their parents everything? I'll go on a limb here and say none. Even with my relationship with my daughter, I'm still surprised by information I discover when I read friend texts. But they DO tell their peers, those friends who've created a safe space for each other. Friends who help when peer pressure and bulling take a front stage in your teen's life. Yes, it can be a double-edged sword since it can also encourage some negatives here.
Add in the social media aspects we didn't have as teens. The screen replaces some of the true face-to-face interaction and, in my opinion, creates a huge deficit in this need for connection and relationships. Social media just forces our teens to grow up too fast. The voice of judgment is strong within us… judging others and ourselves!
Relationships are hard. Any adult can tell you that. Add in teenage hormones, inexperience and any number of things…. what's a parent to do? Support them! Listen to them! Do your best to listen to what they're saying, not what you think they're telling you!
It is true that they may not find their true friend groups until they're older. If they've found their group now, Bravo! I know a group from high school who are like this and I admire their closeness, their history together. But not everyone is lucky.
So what do we do to support those kids? Love them. Teach them that they are amazing just as they are. Make a list of what's special about them! SHOW your special teen that they are perfect just the way they are. Encourage them! BE their safe space. Life won't always be this way.
As parents, we juggle everything. Everything. But when you have teenagers, it's not a time to pull away and force independence. This is whey they actually need you most, even when they're trying to push you away. Make the time for your teen now. You will never regret the time you made for them, but you will regret the time you didn't make.